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Port Authority CEO Delays Cashless Fares To Address Enforcement Concerns

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA
The Port Authority is delaying its cashless fare system, which was supposed to start in July. Eventually, riders will only be able to pay using a ConnectCard or by buying a paper ticket at the station.

The implementation of cashless fares on the Port Authority of Allegheny County’s light rail system has been put on hold until the interim CEO completes a review of concerns about the process.

“We're still working on some technology and some enforcement issues,” said David Donahoe. "So, I've put fresh eyes on that when I've come into the authority. And so we're still working out those issues.”

Donahoe, former executive director of the Regional Asset District, joined the Port Authority June 1, replacing Ellen McLean, whose contract was not renewed.

In April 2016, the Port Authority announced it would begin a cashless fare system for its light rail service beginning July 1, 2017.

Donahoe said the goal is to make it a quicker on-and-off  process for riders.

“The idea here of this system is, to the extent possible, have that fare business handled before the person gets on in the station, not on the train, so that all the doors can be open at as many stops as possible.”

But concerns raised by several groups over enforcement have delayed implementation. McLean pushed it back a month and now Donahoe has postponed implementation until October, he said. He said in addition to reviewing enforcement issues, there's also been a delay in receiving equipment, such as ConnectCard machines and scanners. 

“When you go to this cashless system, whether here or in other cities, you need to be able to make sure that people have paid the necessary fare and that's just fairness to all of the riders,” said Donahoe.

Armed PAT officers will use a hand-held scanner at the station platform or on the car to confirm payment.  Donahoe said under Pennsylvania law, only a police officer can issue an enforceable ticket. A warning would be issued the first time for non-payment and then a ticket, according to Donahoe.

At a meeting in early June with PAT officials, representatives of groups including the Thomas Merton Center and Pittsburghers for Public Transit expressed concern that some people might be targeted for enforcement.

“There will be no selectivity about it. It will be everyone there, whether you're in gym shorts or in a suit and tie," Donahoe said. "You will be asked to prove that you have validated a fare, either through swiping a pre-paid ConnectCard or buying a ticket."

Because non-payment would be considered a criminal offense, the community groups told PAT officials that they were worried that background checks would be done, which could reveal an undocumented immigrant.

“Yes, that's the concern that's been raised and as I said that's what we're looking at,” said Donahoe. “Our police department is not set up to enforce other laws for other people.

But, he added, there’s a simple way to avoid a criminal fine and any other possible repercussions. 

“If you pay your fare, nothing more happens," he said. 

*This post was updated at 4:45 p.m. Wednesday to include information about the delay in equipment.